It's been quite some time since I've posted anything here, so I'll come back to it with a race report from the first annual Illinois Marathon.
2008 was a disastrous marathon year for me. I felt like I was in really good shape heading into both Boston and Chicago. In both races, I had severe stomach pains starting somewhere past mile 15 and had a miserable experience in finishing both races. I finished 45 and 35 minutes behind my expected finish time in both races and was extremely displeased. After Chicago last year, I was so fed up that I decided I would take at least one marathon cycle off and maybe just quit running them entirely.
Fortunately, the Illinois Marathon came to town. The race was to be a smaller marathon in the town where I live with most of my running group participating. With everyone in the group training for the marathon, I was almost training for it by default, so I went ahead and put in the long runs and signed up for the race. I decided two important things in advance.
1) I would train at lower volume than I have for my previous marathons. I still wanted a bit of a break from the training. I put in a lot of weeks around 50 miles and I peaked at just 60.5, the only week I went over 60 miles.
2) I would run a conservative pace. Despite the fact that I'd finished 4 marathons, my PR was still a 2:58:17 from my first marathon, which I ran in Austin. I'd been looking to run 2:45 in the past few where I'd blown up. I still think I'm capable of running at least that fast (I did a 24 miler at a pace that would have put me at 2:41 training for one of my disasters last year...and felt great after the run), but I couldn't risk blowing up again or the prospects of continuing to marathon would slim considerably. I needed to "get the monkey off of my back" as my training partner liked to say. I decided I'd look to run just under 3 hours and there were a bunch of guys in my running group who I could run with at that pace. The plan was to run a nice, relaxed pace and have fun doing it.
Things went according to plan.
I got out of my own bed on the morning of the marathon, well rested and tapered down from my moderate training mileage. I picked up a few of my running buddies and we convened with the rest of the running group in one of their offices which was right near the start line. The weather was better than we could have asked for. It was around 40 degrees at the start, sunny, and low wind (10 mph, which is low for here in Champaign-Urbana).
We ran nice, even splits right on pace as we opened up the marathon. Pictured here (photo courtesy of Kate Torrey) is a bunch of my running group in the early miles along with my PhD advisor, who was running the half. It was fun seeing lots of people we knew along the course. Before the race, I decided that no matter how good I felt, I wouldn't pick up the pace until at least mile 18. I felt great, but I waited patiently. Still feeling good at mile 18.5, I told the group I was going to pick up the pace and I dropped down from ~6:47/mile to under 6:30's where I stayed through the last 10k to the finish line, coming across in 2:55:30. My splits for the entire race are recorded here (I forgot to hit the button at 15).
I was really pleased with the way the marathon went. I ran it according to plan, I felt great, and I had fun. Normally, I don't look to "have fun" while I'm running a race, although I'm looking to have enjoyed it afterwards. This was a win-win because I got the monkey off my back while also having fun (admittedly, the last couple of miles still hurt and I'm not smiling so much in the picture from the last mile). I also recovered incredibly fast. It was a Saturday race and by Wednesday, my legs already felt really good, although I gave it a full week before I started running again. And I'm re-motivated about the marathon. I'm already planning to run Columbus this fall with a bunch of guys from the running group.
As far as the organization of the marathon goes, I thought it was an incredibly well-done first year event. When the plans were first announced and I heard they wanted 4,000 people, I laughed. Amazingly, there were around 9,000 people across the three events with nearly 2,000 in the marathon. Almost everything along the course was well-done too. My biggest complaint was the places where the marathon and half-marathon courses merged. Around mile 23 in the marathon we merged with mile 11 or 12 of the half-marathon for about half a mile and had to cross paths. This meant that while I was coming through under 6:30 pace, I was moving across a lane of people walk/jogging. I nearly got run into the pillar of the viaduct as somebody slowed to a walk and moved off to her left as I came through. And while it was nice to finish in the stadium, the common start + common finish for the full and the half led to a similar problem. My training partner (who ran ~2:41) nearly got caught in the tunnel entering the stadium amongst a mob of half marathoners jogging their way in. And the winners of the marathon finished amidst a wash of slow half-marathoners. Despite these complaints, I think it was a great marathon. I'll definitely do it again...unless I'm running in Boston.